Copyright Law in Aid of Corporate Cover-Up

Raw Story (2/22/09) has a report that illustrates, in passing, the ridiculousness of how copyright law is applied on the Internet.

The story concerns a McDonald’s employee in Arkansas who threw an abusive customer out of the restaurant and got shot, and the hamburger company’s refusal to pay the injured employer workers compensation because the worker’s “injuries did not arise out of or within the course and scope of his employment.”

Surely there’s a legitimate public interest in the question of whether corporations pay compensation in such cases. And if you want to have an informed opinion on this particular case, it would help to be able to see what actually happened. The good news is that there is a videotape of the incident. The bad news, as Raw Story reported:

A surveillance video of the incident, which had been posted to YouTube, was taken down after McDonald’s charged copyright infringement.

It’s unfortunately common for media companies to squelch criticism of themselves by claiming that their critics are violating their copyright. But here you have a corporation that is not in the media business using copyright law to try to prevent people from seeing a video that they have no discernible commercial interest in, simply because people seeing the video might think less of the company. This is a perversion of copyright law, which is supposed to “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” not assist in damage control operations for big businesses with PR problems.

Raw Story updated their story by noting that the video is once again available on YouTube, via a local news report from station KARK. Whether McDonald’s will try to get that taken down as well, or whether the company has decided that such censorship efforts are actually counterproductive, remains to be seen. But the public’s access to information about public questions should not be held hostage to corporate PR strategies.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.